Articles tagged with: paper

Notes on the Conservation of a Very Fragile Letter

on Tuesday, 27 August 2019. Posted in Archives, Conservation

A new project recently appeared in the archive conservation lab: a brittle and damaged looking document that turned out to be an interesting new accession.

Letter Sent to Francis Yerbury, 14th May 1747 (1387/1697)

The document is a letter sent to local Clothier Francis Yerbury in 1747. It is thought that he may have run a cloth mill in Trowbridge although the letter is about a mill in Bradford-On-Avon. Hanne Dahl, Exhibitions and Collections Officer at Trowbridge Museum has transcribed the letter and below gives an overview of the its content:

The letter seems to consist of two messages. One is regarding a cloth order which John Howell has received and is ensuring Francis Yerbury he will pay for. The other is a new cloth order for the Empress of Russia of Clergy cloth in scarlets and greens. 5 cloth samples of Yerbury’s are attached to the letter as a colour reference.
The Empress mentioned was probably Elizabeth of Russia who lived 1741-1762. According to popular history clothing was the chosen means in Elizabeth’s Court by which to display wealth and social standing and according to historian Mikhail Shcherbatov (1733-1790) her court was “arrayed in cloth of gold, her nobles satisfied with only the most luxurious garments, the most expensive foods, the rarest drinks, that largest number of servants and they applied this standard of lavishness to their dress as well.’ Hanne Dahl, Exhibitions and Collection Officer, Trowbridge Museum April 2019

The new accession was passed on to the archives here at WSHC by Hanne after being in the care of the Ponting family; the late Ken Ponting being former Managing Director of Samuel Salter Ltd. weaving mill in Trowbridge.

As is often the case with the documents I work on, there is much of historical interest and I could spend many hours researching them. However, as a conservator, once I have enough detail to inform my conservation decisions, I must tear myself away from the fascinating historical insight and prioritise stabilising and preserving the letter so that future researchers can access it safely.

The letter

It was originally folded to be posted and has the postal address visible on one of the folded sections. The letter is written in brown ink and has textile samples and a small part of a wax seal attached.

Several factors made this a conservation challenge; not only was the paper extremely thin and fragile but the additional attached textiles samples and seal remains also had to be considered at all times as they could easily become detached and lost.

The document needed to be packaged so that it could be safely stored in the archive but also handled without the risk of further damage. As the paper was so thin, it could easily tear again with further handling, even after conservation.

I decided that once repaired, the document would be safest inside a mount- this would allow for compensation of the thickness of the attached textile samples and seal remnants as the depth of the window mount would prevent them getting squashed or dislodged in storage. It would also enable easy viewing as and when required without direct handling of the letter. Text found on the back of the letter was all in one area so the mount could be adapted to have a viewing window on the reverse. This would also mean the document didn’t need to be taken out of the mount or handled to see this.

    
Areas of damage on the letter

Backing removal

The letter arrived with us inside a frame, attached to a backing board with tape partially holding it around some edges. The paper was so thin and weak that tears had started to appear along many of the original fold lines whilst large areas were breaking around the edges.
It was important to remove the letter from the backing for several reasons; the backing board itself, made from poor quality board was likely to be causing damage to the paper. Unless they are archival quality, backing boards and framing materials are often made of very poor quality materials with high levels of acidity. As these materials break down they can transfer acidity to materials they are attached to, increasing their deterioration. I also needed to access the document to effectively repair the tears and remove the adhesive tape.

I was able to successfully remove the letter from the mount using a spatula to ease the tape away from the board surface.

Using a spatula to detach the tape off the backing board

When the board was removed it was possible to clearly see acid transfer which appeared to be coming from the document and transferring onto the backing board, suggesting the paper itself is acidic. This is likely to be due to the ingredients used when the paper was originally made, for example additives such as sizing and fillers or the materials the paper is made from such as wood pulp. The ingredients vary between paper mills and throughout the history of papermaking, for example Lignin from wood pulp is extremely acidic and is generally found in modern papers such as newsprint. This is what makes newsprint go yellow and brittle so quickly.

The darker area of brown mirrors the document suggesting acid transfer from the paper onto the backing board

After removing the document from the backing a new area of writing was discovered where the letter had in fact continued overleaf. The archivist was then able to add this to the existing transcription.

A small area of text was found on the back of the letter after it was removed from the backing board

Once the letter was separated from the backing board I could then remove the adhesive tape. This task of removing tape is always daunting for a conservator as different adhesives react completely differently to different types of removal. Sometimes it can take a long time to find a method that softens or releases the adhesive so that the tape can be removed.

On this occasion I found that applying moisture directly onto the tape was enough to release the adhesive. However, a thick piece of brown adhesive tape down the left side of the letter was so stubborn that after removing a small amount I decided it would be better to leave that particular piece of tape on rather than risking damage to the already fragile paper surface.

Once the tape had been removed I surface cleaned the document being careful to avoid any weak areas. I was then able to move on to repairing and stabilising.

Repairs

Tears on paper documents are generally repaired by adhering small pieces of Japanese tissue to the reverse.

The tissue I used for the letter is only 5 gsm, so it is extremely thin and light- but strong enough to stabilise the tears and weak areas without distracting from the letter itself.

Infills

Two areas of the document had large gaps that although supported on the back with the Japanese tissue repairs, needed to be infilled with a paper of a similar thickness to the letter itself, to prepare the document for mounting. In the conservation of archival documents (as opposed to artworks) it is particularly important that repairs such as this are visible additions, clearly seen as modern repairs and not blended to make them invisible. This ensures that future historians and researchers are aware of the difference between the original document and any conservation work that has been done.

Creating an Inlay

The edge of the letter is traced onto the inlay paper
The inlay paper surrounding the letter shown on the lightbox to highlight the small gap around the edge

In paper conservation an inlay is a piece of paper that is attached around the outside of the document to protect it and prevent further damage to fragile edges. This is achieved by tracing around the edge of the document using a needle and then removing the inner piece of inlay paper to create a paper frame. The inlay paper is attached to the document by thin strips of Japanese tissue adhered along the gap between the two. The inlay protects the original document whilst still retaining full visual access to it. It also means that the document can be attached inside the mount by putting hinges on the inlay paper rather than directly on the document itself and that the letter can be fully displayed in the aperture of the window mount without falling out through the middle.

Unravelling the Great Rolls

on Thursday, 28 June 2018. Posted in Archives

One of the pleasures of working in a History Centre or County Record Office is that you are always discovering new material. There are many occasions when a customer has requested something and I think ‘that looks interesting, I must have a look some when.’ The list is growing ever longer and I will probably never get round to looking at everything that interests me. A few months ago one of our regular customers spent several days looking at the Great Rolls. These documents have always been a mystery to me as I have never known exactly what’s in them and how easy they are to use.

The Rolls are part of the Quarter Sessions records. Prior to the Local Government Act 1888 and the creation of County Councils, the Quarter Sessions presided over by JPs were responsible for the administration of justice. As well as dealing with criminal cases, examples of their responsibilities were the administration of poor law, apprenticeship indentures, ale house licences, plans of canals and railways, coroners’ accounts, the County Militia, Meeting House certificates, registers of gamekeepers, the supervision of prisons, the drawing up of jury lists, regulations regarding highway maintenance, the licencing of lunatic asylums and recording the names of parish constables. All of which is a wealth of information for both the family and local historian.

Here in Wiltshire we are fortunate enough to have an active Family History Society which has transcribed and indexed many of the criminal and poor law registers. One of our archivists has transcribed the ale house records. But what about the many hidden gems that we don’t know about? As well as the rolls themselves, which in Wiltshire date back to 1603, there are also rough minute books, entry books and order books. The rough minute book was effectively the clerk’s notebook. The order book records the full minutes of the court. The entry book includes names of the jury, presentments (a formal presentation of information to the court) and the names of people who were bound to appear at the court. I have chosen the year 1750 as an example.

IMG 0378

The term ‘rolls’ describes the documents perfectly, as the parchment and paper documents used in the court were spiked, threaded on string and rolled for storage. There are four bundles for each year, one for each of the sessions. They are still known by the four English court terms during the calendar year, Easter, Trinity, Michaelmas and Hilary. Each bundle consists of smaller rolls each covering one subject, one of which is returns of jurors.

As well as giving names, which will be of interest to family historians, the return also gives a glimpse into the workings of local government. The next layer of government below the Quarter Sessions was the hundred court. (Wiltshire was divided into 40 hundreds; a hundred was a group of parishes that functioned as one administrative unit).  This dealt with petty crimes committed in one of the parishes within the hundred.  At the top of the document are the names of the constables of the hundred. They were senior law enforcement officers (prior to the establishment of professional police forces). Next are the gentlemen summoned to serve on the grand jury at the Quarter Sessions. Finally, all the men who served on the hundred jury, with their parish, are listed. Sometimes the list will include the juror’s occupation.

Paste Paper Fun!

on Monday, 23 October 2017. Posted in Conservation, History Centre

Paste paper making is an historic craft technique used in bookbinding to make decorative papers for books.

They are fun and easy to make and suitable for all ages

You can come and join our workshop at our Family Fun Day on Sat 28th October at the WSHC in Chippenham, but if you can’t make it you can always have a go at home!

Materials needed:

• Corn starch paste*/ Wheat starch paste*/ wall paper paste (*see online for easy recipes)
• Acrylic tube paint/watercolours
• Paper (sugar paper is cheap and colourful and works really well)
• Some ideas for tools for mark-making:
    o Paint brushes
    o Plastic combs
    o Lollipop sticks
    o Fingers
    o Wooden spoon

What to do:

1. Mix some paint and paste together  (you want the consistency to be thick but preferably smooth without lumps)
2. Brush the paste and paint mixture onto the paper covering the whole surface
3. Create patterns by using a tool such as a comb or paintbrush (or anything else that can create a nice mark on the paper) by dragging or drawing across the surface
4. Leave to dry

Here are some that we made:

Sarah used a lollipop stick and the non-bristle end of a paintbrush to create this one
Gabby used a comb to create the subtle flower shape
Sophie used glitter paint on black sugar paper and a lollipop stick and comb to create the patterns
Beth dragged a comb across different stripes of colour
Sophie Coles, Assistant Conservator

A Paper Trail

on Monday, 11 September 2017. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire Places

I was interested to read a recent news story which described scientific work to extract DNA from parchment using a non-destructive technique, giving us remarkable and unexpected source of information about the animal the page was created from. It has also proved possible to extract DNA of people who have touched or kissed the manuscripts over the years (devotional prayer books for example).

Thinking about the physical fabric of the archives led me to consider our more common archive material; paper. We see paper as a prosaic item nowadays and take it for granted, but it used to be much more valuable and remained expensive until the advent of the steam-driven paper mill.

There is limited documented evidence about paper making before the 18th century and the knowledge and skills would primarily have been shared directly between family members and master and apprentice. We have records of apprenticeships in our parish collections including Edward Hayword from Bradford-on-Avon who was apprenticed to a Gabriel Sweet, Weston, Somerset in July 1745 and a Thomas Whale from Chippenham, apprenticed to a Charles Ward, papermaker at Doncombe, North Wraxall in November 1804.

ref WSA 77/167

The process of making paper was a complex one involving many stages and can be read about in more detail in various publications including The British Paper Industry 1495-1860 by D.C Coleman available in our local studies library (shelfmark 338.476). The cellulose fibres in plant tissues were macerated and mixed with water until the fibres separated and were lifted from the water using a sieve-like screen, leaving a sheet of matted fibres on the screen’s surface. This then required pressing, drying, sizing, and finishing before it could be used as paper.

Image reproduced from The British Paper Industry 1495-1860 by D.C Coleman

We have several wills in our collection left by papermakers. These can give some indication of the kind of wealth and social standing of the profession.

In the 1792 will of John Lewis, paper maker of Yatton Keynell he bequeathed all his household goods and furniture to his wife, Mary Lewis. He also left an annuity of £8 to be paid to his sister, Elizabeth Parker, to be paid in equal quarterly instalments every year until her death. John Lewis makes it explicit that this money ‘is not liable to the debts or engagements of my said sisters husband or any other husband he may hereafter have and that her receipt alone…’ He also bequeathed to Thomas Vincent, a grocer of Calne (named as executor alongside his wife), all his real estate at Longdean and Yatton Keynell. It is pleasing given his profession that he sees fit to mention the paper that the will is written on:

“… to this my last will and testament contained in two sheets of paper set my hand and seal as follows (that is to say) my hand to the first sheet thereof and my hand and seal to the last sheet and my seal at the top where both sheets join”.

ref WSA P3/L/513

Another will belonging to Thomas Bacon, papermaker of Downton, dating to 1679 includes an inventory of his goods. These include materials and goods from the mill house including scales and weights, paper moulds and their respective values.

ref WSA P2/B/949

Paper Conservation Volunteering at the History Centre

on Tuesday, 03 September 2013. Posted in Conservation

Saya Honda Miles has been volunteering with the Archives conservation team to help with large conservation projects. She has been working with Senior Conservation officers Paul Smith and Sarah Money conserve Inland Revenue maps from 1901, 19th Century tissue plans of Great Wishford Church and manuscripts for Sir Richard Colt-Hoare’s volumes: The Ancient History of Wiltshire and The History of Modern Wiltshire from the Wiltshire Museum.


Saya graduated with a First-class honours degree in Conservation from Camberwell College of Arts in 2008.  After graduation, she worked on a cellulose nitrate negative deep-freezing project at the Ashmolean Museum. She became an Icon Intern for the Conservation of Photographic Materials; hosted by English Heritage and National Trust in 2009. After the internship, Saya started her private business; SMILES Conservation and she became a member of the ICON Photographic Materials Group Committee in 2010.


In March 2013, she completed the Red Box Project; a digitisation and conservation project of 600,000 open-access architectural photographs as a project conservator at the English Heritage Archives. After completing the project, she started volunteering at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in May 2013 to refresh her paper conservation skills. She has recently been appointed at the English Heritage Archives as the Maternity Cover Assistant Archive Conservator.

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